“My worry is the disappointment of this nation if Nelson Mandela fails to deliver and fulfil the dreams and hopes of this nation” were the words of Willie Ramoshaba, after Mandela’s first presidential speech, at the Union Buildings on May 10 1994.
He was making the comment after reading the winds of high expectation and national euphoria sweeping across the country.
He was afraid of the disappointment that was bound to follow should Mandela and the ANC fail to meet these expectations.
In his view, the people were loading too much trust on Mandela and the ANC’s shoulders.
None of my group had time to engage Ramoshaba, and doing so would have spoilt the party.
We were convinced that nothing was going to stop us from casting aside the years of oppression and discrimination, and finally building the new society on a solid foundation of universal freedom and democracy we had desired and carried in our hearts for so long.
Today, 23 years later, the words of Ramoshaba, then the publisher of the Black Portfolio business magazine, taunt.
Every time I hear of new scandalous revelations of corruption, state capture and outright mismanagement of the country, I hear those words.
With our country now firmly characterised by peculiarly potent criminal networks which seem to have an unshakeable hold over politicians, resulting in a weakening of state institutions and a decline in the rule of law, I can’t stop pondering Ramoshaba’s words.
On that great day in 1994, we, together with influential figures like Winkie Ximiya, Ernie Bergins, Rev Mcebisi Xundu and Percy Smith and others, did not have time to discuss and analyse Ramoshaba’s views.
We were drowning in tears of joy and the euphoria of the moment.
We were embarking on a new era. South Africa was going to be the paradise of our dreams in the long night of apartheid.
All South Africans, black and white, rich and poor, rural and urban, were basking in this season of hope, visioning a better society for all.
In the dining rooms in the VIP tents at the Union Buildings, there was no time to respond to “negative” comments. We were enjoying our first meal as free South Africans.
Ignoring Ramoshaba’s nagging comments was the correct response at that moment. Ramoshaba’s fears have become our reality. I am seeing our country sink slowly into a crass morass of immorality and political criminality led by the party that Mandela led to freedom, and through it, had sought to build a prosperous and peaceful country.
The distressing report of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on the theft of R300-million, supposedly meant to build toilets, provide water and other issues meant to develop our downtrodden nation, brought his words back to mind.
According to Mkhwebane, the ringleaders of this shameful scam are people who govern our province on behalf of the ANC.
The news of the abuse of public money, ostensibly meant to pay for Mandela’s funeral but which was abused for personal gratification and greed, comes on the back of another social tragedy, the death of 143 mental patients and disabled people at the Life Esidimeni, due to civil servants’ negligence and corruption.
To top it all, recently it was announced in the Bhisho Legislature that more than 1 600 people in the past year had died of malnutrition in the province. They starved to death. This is almost unthinkable. When Ramoshaba was finally given the opportunity to elaborate on his dampening of our expectations, we dismissed his caution as a far-fetched pessimism that had no place in South Africa’s future.
In the group of proud citizens were people that I knew loved and trusted their country.
Ramoshaba, answering my question, said: “I am informed by what I saw after the independence of many African countries, and how the hopes of the people of those countries were dashed by either the leadership or mismanagement of the politics and the economies of those nations.”
Ramoshaba remembered the hopes and optimism that swept the entire continent during Ghana’s independence in 1957 and how years later that country regressed.
He pointed at Nigeria, and many other countries, some of them governed by Africa’s iconic leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and others, who all failed to deliver the economic benefits and/or meet their nation’s expectations.
Ramoshaba, in building his case, cited people like Dr Lucas Mangope and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who were trusted and loved by their people, but who did not fulfil their promises.
His point was that Mandela’s adulation would be followed by spectacular disappointment if “our peoples’ expectations are not met”.
Ramoshaba’s fears have come to pass. Masses of people now believe the freedom project has been hijacked and misdirected. And they are saying so publicly. Fortunately for our country the voices of the old civic movement have been awakened and their work is being revived.
Our nation is being redirected back to its original path.
Our vibrant and independent judiciary, the potent shield against the political hounds, has restored the nation’s faith in the future of our country. The moment for the community to stand together and wrestle the government back from criminals is now.
Ours is to cling to Mandela’s words of May 10 1994 in his first momentous speech at the Union Buildings when he said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another”.